"Christian religion is wrong!" – Turkmen-style fight against adherents of different faith

In violation of the law, Turkmenistan's special services and jointly with the local authorities, are fighting representatives of religious minority groups.

At 10:30 a.m. on 21 November four people burst into the house of Makhmud Ovezov (the address is available in the editorial board and human rights organization) in Dashoguz without any warning or permission. Pushing aside the wife of the owner of the house who had opened the door to greet them, they headed inside the house.

The Ovezovs are a family of Christians who regularly attend gatherings at the Evangelical Christian Church "Oriental light". This religious organization was officially registered in Turkmenistan on 16 April 2005. Members of the congregation are actively involved in charity work by rendering aid to the infants' orphanage, the homeless and street children.

Thirty minutes before the invasion by the uninvited officials, minister Yury Razmetov, together with his spouse and two other parish members, had come to visit the Ovezovs' house. They brought a music synthesizer for the rehearsal of Christian songs which were planned to be performed at the forthcoming Sunday church service on 24 November.

When the representatives of the local authorities illegally burst into the house, the minister, his wife, the owner of the house and guests were tuning a musical instrument on the porch. The songbooks were in front of them. The housewife and her two sisters were busy with household chores while children were playing in their room. Without introducing themselves or showing any IDs, the male visitors started interrogating the owner of the house and his guests to find out why they were gathered there. In response to the explanation that they were rehearsing hymns and not having a church meeting, the men in civilian clothes said that "It is forbidden to perform songs about God".

The minister recognized an employee of the khyakimlik's office Tirkish Goshaevich among the visitors. The rest stubbornly refused to give their names. They simply said that they were officials of law enforcement authorities and didn't specify which one.

Then, without making any record, they confiscated the Christian song books and demanded that the whole party accompany them but didn't tell where. The housewife and her sisters stayed at home and for three hours they were not aware of the whereabouts of the detained.

The detainees were transported to the department of religion of the Dashoguz velayat khyakimlik's office. Minister Yury Razmetov was taken to a separate room where a man was sitting who was introduced as an imam but his first name, surname or the name of the mosque he served was not mentioned. The anonymous imam said that "the Christian religion is wrong", "this is a myth, not a religion" and "for centuries it was concealed that Jesus Christ had a wife Maria" and "one needs to believe the right religion and go to the mosque".

Then the detained were forced to sign a text which was typed by an employee of the khyakimlik's office on a computer and printed out. The text was in the Turkmen language which the detainees do not speak or have limited knowledge to be able to understand legal wordings. The church members were also threatened that if they convened again at a place which differs from the legal address indicated in the documents, the registration would be cancelled, the minister's accommodation and Makhmud Ovezov's house would be confiscated.

At 2:00 p.m. the people were released while Makhmud was taken back to his home accompanied by two law enforcement officers in a privately-owned car. In the Ovezovs' house the visitors asked the three remaining women to sign a letter of explanation. When they refused, they were threatened with arrest to "take testimony". Then photos of all family members, including the children – ten-year old Umid and five-year old (!) David were taken against the wall, one by one.

Afterwards the owners of the house were threatened that their house would be searched to confiscate any religion-related books if they did not hand over the books voluntarily. As a result, three personal Bibles in the Russian language were confiscated without issuing any receipts.

The story continued. In the morning of December 3 the minister got a call from an unidentified person, who demanded that all people who had been detained on 21 November, were obliged to appear at the Adalat office (the local office of the Justice Ministry). A female staff member Maral informed them that they had received a written instruction from the Adalat Ministry to investigate the case related to an illegal religious gathering. It turned out that the text in the Turkmen language signed by them stated that the Ovezovs had hosted a religious meeting in their house, not a singing rehearsal. In response to the indignation and illegal actions of anonymous law-enforcement officers and staff of the khyakimlik's office Maral said: "How can you prove this?" Again, people were urged to write explanatory statements but this time – handwritten and in Russian.

However, everybody was strictly warned that the religious community would be deprived of its registration if the parishioners convene outside the legal address again. Now the members of the church "Oriental light" are seriously concerned about the actions taken by the authorities and fear that any family gathering might be perceived as an illegal religious gathering.

Source: TIHR